Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
Some more known hitters narrowly missed this column’s rostered requirements of below 10% in ESPN and Yahoo leagues. Francisco Mejia (16%), Evan Longoria (15%), Willie Calhoun (14%), Jake Lamb (13%) and Ian Happ (11%) all either have the past track record or former prospect glow to attract more intrigue on the waiver wire.
These guys, meanwhile, are misfit toys in comparison. All of them have spent time in Triple-A this season. While the group’s veteran has at least delivered intermittent fantasy production, another couldn’t buy a hit to start 2019. The other two may not have even been selected in 15-team, 50-round drafts this preseason. All four have nonetheless earned more playing time by swinging hot bats in recent weeks. They at least demand attention in deep leagues.
Cameron Maybin (OF – NYY): 6%
The Yankees must have some magic potion. Perhaps it’s their own take on Cardinal Devil Magic, or maybe it’s the same formula the Astros use to transform every pitcher into an ace. Luke Voit, Edwin Encarnacion, and Giancarlo Stanton are all out of a lineup that just welcomed back Gary Sanchez and is still waiting for vintage Aaron Judge to return. They still lead baseball in scoring thanks to D.J. LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, and Cameron Maybin.
Were he hitting the may he usually does, Maybin would reside in a clear fourth outfielder role behind Judge, Tauchman, and Brett Gardner. Yet the career .257/.325/.375 hitter is batting .319/.393/.528 in 183 plate appearances. His seven homers are already three shy of matching a season-high. Although he’s no longer a threat to steal 40 bases, swiping seven in 54 games is still noteworthy in this lethargic running environment.
A Grade 2 calf strain seemed poised to end the 32-year-old’s resurgent season. However, he has returned from a month-long layaway to hit .333/.400/.600 in 12 games. Aside from a routine rest day Sunday, Maybin has set down regular roots as a corner outfielder or designated hitter. With Aaron Hicks on the shelf, the Yankees have no reason to mess with success.
If common sense didn’t alarm investors to regression, Statcast’s .263 expected batting average (xBA) should do the trick. On the other hand, he has already notched his most barrels in a single season (12) since Statcast began tracking data in 2015. His exit velocity (90 mph), launch angle (12.0 degrees), and hard-hit rate (45.3%) are all easily personal bests. So is his .349 expected wOBA despite falling far below his actual .392. Maybin is not a .300 hitter, but he has made enough strides to offer some legitimate power with some speed in an improbably flourishing Yankees lineup.
Teoscar Hernandez (OF – TOR): 5%
Looking at the full picture, Hernandez is having another underwhelming season. Yet to meet the excitement of 2017’s summer surge, he’s once again pairing his power with an untenable batting average (.224) contaminated by too many strikeouts (30.7%). Remarkably consistent in his inability to reach base, he has posted OBPs of .304, .305, .302, and .298 during his major league tenure.
Hernandez is also swinging a hot bat. The 26-year-old has crushed 10 of his 18 home runs in 25 contests after the All-Star break. During this stretch, he’s slugging .675 with a 12.5% walk rate and 56.0% hard-hit rate, per FanGraphs. As of Sunday, the Toronto outfielder wields a .399 xwOBA after the All-Star break. This is the upside that keeps supporters coming back for more despite his glaring shortcomings.
This streak probably won’t last. Hernandez is still a career .236 hitter who carried a .561 OPS when the Blue Jays demoted him in May. An extreme approach will only help gamers chasing home runs, and those sluggers are more plentiful than ever. That abundant supply, however, doesn’t necessarily apply to a deeper mixed league. Managers who need to start five outfielders in a grouping larger than 12 teams should take a short-term flier and move on if Hernandez stumbles. Maybe he can be another Renato Nunez.
Jon Berti (SS/OF – MIA): 3%
Life is too hectic to concern ourselves with 29-year-old journeymen on the Marlins, but this column is made for players like Berti. Only truly dedicated fantasy managers are paying much attention to a placeholder on a cellar-dwelling team. Even if he’s playing his way into a leadoff role.
Drafted with pick 559 of the 2011 MLB Draft, Berti didn’t reach the majors until joining the Blue Jays for four games last September. Miami gave him a longer chance, but ultimately jettisoned him back to Triple-A despite recording a 122 wRC+ in May. The 5’10” infielder worked his way back by batting .290/.430/.500, and he has maintained that hot hand in South Beach.
Since rejoining the majors on July 31, Berti has gone 16-for-44 with five doubles and four stolen bases. Miami has thus batted him first or second in all but one contest this month. The epitome of organizational depth, Berti wouldn’t get this opportunity for just about any other team. He’s also unlikely to stay this hot, but he could provide some steals and runs down the stretch. Prominent lineup position on a bad team still leads to more opportunities.
Jose Osuna (1B/3B – PIT): 3%
Playing time is the only impediment for Osuna, who boasts a .316/.363/.623 slash line and 152 wRC+ in 125 plate appearances. He’s spent the season trapped in the short end of a platoon despite faring even better (170 wRC+) in limited work against righties.
Pittsburgh has expanded his role in August, starting Osuna in all but two games. He went 2-for-2 with a homer in the first day out of the starting lineup. Some part-time players get exposed by more playing time, but the 26-year-old has shined even brighter, reaching base in his last dozen games before Sunday. He had a decent 1.285 OPS through those 39 plate appearances.
It’s not like a handful of All-Stars are blocking his path to regular playing time. After the Pirates sent Corey Dickerson to the Phillies, Melky Cabrera represents Osuna’s competition for right-field duties until Gregory Polanco returns from a shoulder injury. Just recently resuming baseball activities, he likely won’t be ready until September. Colin Moran is holding down third base with a below-average 98 wRC+ and 0.2 fWAR. Now far removed from the playoff hunt, Pittsburgh should see what it has in Osuna to close the season. If that chance occurs in the outfield, he could soon hold eligibility at three different positions in most leagues.